Brazil 0 France 1: Zidane regains mastery to tame Brazil

Pele looked bereft. His face was a mix of crushing disappointment and bewildered frustration. But when he spoke he articulated what everyone had witnessed. "Zidane is the master," he said. "Over the past 10 years, there's been no-one like him, he has been the best player in the world."

On Saturday evening, in Frankfurt, Zinedine Zidane was that again. There was something almost beatific in his performance. From the moment he walked slowly on to the pitch, with his eyes raised heavenwards, to when he finally departed, the first French player to leave following the final whistle, he was serene.

It was as if he was working in his own universe, on his own level. No one else came close to touching him, no one else appeared to be even playing the same game. And to think it could have been his 103rd and final appearance for France. Two years after he retired, only to return last autumn to lead his country to this tournament, Zidane, aged 34, will finally step down when their involvement in the competition ends.

"We don't want to stop now," he said afterwards. "This is so beautiful. We want it to carry on." France needed a "great match", Zidane added. He gave them that greatness. He did not so much roll back the years as banish them. There was no sign of age, of tiredness, of waning powers. Everything he did he did brilliantly, beautifully.

"Unfortunately for us he had a great match," the Brazilian midfielder Kaka, one of the many exalted names eclipsed by Zidane, said. "He's a truly great player. The fact that he's retiring is a great loss for the world of football."

In the press seats the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, commentating for French television, could barely contain himself. He, too, was lost in the emotion.

For France it was 1998 relived. Then, too, they were inspired by Zizou, with two headed goals, as they beat Brazil in the final in Paris. That was the last match in a World Cup finals that Brazil had lost. But 11 straight victories for the champions came to a shuddering halt this weekend and, with it, France became the first country to have beaten them three times in the World Cup (the other defeat came in the quarter-finals in 1986 on penalties). Brazil also failed to reach the last four for the first time since 1990.

Their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, looked broken. A decision will be made on his future "in the next few days", but he is unlikely to remain in place having overseen an unconvincing campaign and faced fierce criticism over his team selections and tactics. But he, too, highlighted Zidane. "He made the difference, even more than in 1998," Parreira said. "This was probably his best performance in the last eight years. He showed a lot of personality and creativity."

There was another piece of history, and a strange one at that. Thierry Henry's 57th-minute goal, calmly and expertly volleyed in at the far post from a free-kick, was the first time that the striker had ever scored from a Zidane assist. With 184 caps between them, and 36 goals for Henry, that is an astonishing statistic and one that has preyed on everyone's minds.

But such constraints are now banished. France feel liberated. Their turgid progress through the group stages, following on from their sorry qualifying campaign and their abject defence of the title four years ago, feels like a very, very long time ago. After the rousing defeat of Spain, beating Brazil has brought the confidence flooding back. It was all they lacked.

"I know few players have ever won two World Cups but we are capable of it," said Patrick Vieira, one of six survivors from 1998. He was also full of praise for Zidane. "You only have to look at Zidane in training to know that he is still in a great physical shape but he has made his decision to retire and we respect that," he said while Henry added: "Zizou played so well. He drove us on."

The contrast with Ronaldinho could not have been sharper. This was supposed to be the 26-year-old's World Cup yet he leaves it having failed to make any impression whatsoever. Partly he was hampered by Brazil's unbalanced formation but such a great player should have been able to rise above that. In the end he was simply bypassed and looked desperately short of confidence. It's over a year since he scored for his country.

Hopefully, Brazil will now regroup and build their team around him, give him the platform he deserves, and also continue to encourage Robinho. Despite their ageing side they have, as ever, a bright future.

But, suddenly, France do too. In Franck Ribéry and Florent Malouda they had vibrancy and youth to add to their experience while William Gallas was formidable in defence.

Brazil rarely looked like scoring. Even a desperate late flurry was repelled while, for France, Henry missed with a header, Vieira with another and Ribéry was swiftly denied by goalkeeper Dida before Louis Saha wasted a late opportunity.

They were, indeed, the worthiest of winners and will now meet Portugal in Munich on Wednesday. "We're not here to dream. We're here to achieve," Henry said.

That's true but, with Zidane back to his best, they can still provide fantasy football.

Brazil (4-2-2-2): Dida; Cafu (both Milan), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid); Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Ze Roberto (Bayern Munich); Kaka (Milan), Juninho Pernambucano (Lyon); Ronaldinho (Barcelona), Ronaldo (Real Madrid). Substitutes used: Adriano (Internazionale) for Juninho, 63; Cicinho (Real Madrid) for Cafu, 76; Robinho (Real Madrid) for Kaka , 79.

France (4-5-1): Barthez (Marseilles); Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Gallas (Chelsea), Thuram (Juventus), Abidal (Lyon); Ribéry (Marseilles), Makelele (Chelsea), Vieira (Juventus), Zidane (Real Madrid), Malouda (Lyon); Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Govou (Lyon) for Ribéry, 77; Wiltord (Lyon) for Malouda, 81; Saha (Manchester United) for Henry, 86.

Booked: Brazil Cafu (25), Juan (44), Ronaldo (45), Lucio (75); France Sagnol (74), Saha (87), Thuram (88).

Referee: L Medina Cantalejo (Spain)

Man of the match: Zidane.

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor